Ben-Hur [Draft]

Style: Classic

Attitude: Positive → Edifying

This review was contributed by Stephen de la B

In Brief: A good and inspiring read at secondary level and above for someone who can read lengthy stories! Fiction in a factual setting.

Author: Lew Wallace

Publisher: OUP

Published in: 1880

Age Range: General

Period: 1st C

Genres:  AdventureClassicFriendshipGrittyHistorical


  • Ben-Hur' s personality shows a development of maturity in the face of adversity and hatred.
  • Simonides is the epitome of loyalty to a heroic degree.
  • Balthasar's daughter is corrupted by Messala ( the Roman patrician who has it in for Ben-Hur! ).


Having seen the Charlton Heston film more than once, I felt it would be a struggle to get through 530 pages of 19th century prose, but the very descriptive style is sustaining ( cliff-hangers!) and interesting. The theme is, of course, overcoming a justified hatred on the part of Ben-Hur, achieved by his conversion and commitment to Christ, whose crucifixion he witnesses as the climax of the novel. The description of sworn enemy Messala and the other characters – is excellent and the picture created of 1st century Roman Middle-East rather convincing. We naturally think that the big moment of the novel is the chariot race, but I found the naval battle in which Ben-Hur saves the life of his captain more moving…. Maybe more to capture in writing than in filming!

Negatively, it is true that the rather ponderous English can sometimes grate, and I was sorry that Wallace did not offer a deeper analysis of Ben-Hur’s process of conversion and forgiveness (which came first?). positively Wallace’s moving description of female characters:- Ben-Hur’s mother and sister and Simonides’ daughter – are memorable and counterbalance the necessarily masculine ambiance of the story.

The Introduction in this edition (O.U.P. 1998) is an excellent study of the literary background to this and others of this genre.

Saturday 27th September 2014